One aspect of being a bandleader these days is that you simply have to diversify. With road trips longer than two or three weeks now the exception rather than the rule, you need a variety of delineated projects to remain viable. And with the proliferation of independent record labels that, unlike the majors, don't demand exclusivity, you've got to be ready to record, release, and promote these projects at every opportunity.
So when bassist William Parker took the quartet that released '00's O'Neal's Porchwhich combined arguably his most swinging and accessible music with a daring sense of invention and improvisational interplayon a short Canadian tour in the summer of '04 that included a stop at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, a couple of things became immediately evident.
First, it pays to create your own cadre of players from which to build various projects. Trumpeter Lewis Barnes, alto saxophonist Rob Brown, and drummer Hamid Drake may only reconvene with the bassist as the William Parker Quartet on rare occasion, but they've all been working with him in a variety of contextsin Brown and Barnes' case since the early '90s, with Drake teaming up with them for the first time on O'Neal's Porch, but working regularly with Parker for some time. The result is that, regardless of the musical situation, there's a pervasive familiarity and shared musical understanding.
Second, it's possible to make challenging music that remains engaging and nonconfrontational. Some of Parker's other projects, like the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, may be rooted in the jazz tradition, but they have an inherently chaotic aesthetic that makes them tougher to absorb. But what makes Sound Unitya collection of live recordings culled from the '04 Canadian tourso compelling is that while it's a pinnacle of group interaction, it's also got a natural swing, an inherent groove that grounds and centers the group, giving it a broader appeal.
While things break down into freer exploration at times during these six extended tracks, someone is always carrying the pulse. During Brown's searing solo on the title track, Drake is constantly along for the ride, either hinging on his every move or setting up an alternative path for him to take. And yet, remarkably, not only does he simultaneously manage to maintain forward motion, but with Parker as solid an anchor as one could ask for, things never lose their momentum.
"Hawaii and "Harlem share a thematic motif, but the former is up-tempo and bright, while the latter sees a darker, blues-tinged treatment. In both cases, as with the whole disc, despite the obvious individual strengths of both front-line soloists, the real magic happens when they're working off each other in tandem.
And when you add in Parker and Drake's ability to straddle the line between a traditional rhythm section role and looser experimentation, you've got a poster group for the broadest possible potential of the approachable.
Hawaii; Wood Flute Song; Poem for June Jordan; Sound Unity; Harlem; Groove. Recorded at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, 7/2/2004 (1,2,5,6); and La Sala Rossa, Montreal, 6/27/2004 (3,4). Total time 70:32.
William Parker: bass; Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Hamid Drake: drums; Lewis Barnes: trumpet.
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